In a Facebook post Tuesday, the Lee County PTO Thrift Store revealed that multiple people have been caught on camera taking donations from behind the store at night and asking that people only bring items for donation during regular operating hours.

“Do you know these people? We’ve seen them regularly on our cameras after hours taking donations left at our back door when we are closed,” the post read. “Please help us in a few ways. Never leave donations when we’re closed, we will only be left with a trashy mess the next day. All the good we are here trying to do is undone in a few trips like that to our back door. If you know people coming by here when we are closed taking things, please contact the police if it’s after hours. If it’s regular business hours feel free to message us here or call. We are working very hard to process donations as efficiently as possible and having to spend time cleaning up messes like this is a waste of time and money.”

Attached to the post are several pictures from surveillance footage showing a man and a woman loading several items, including furniture, into a white pickup truck behind the store at 303 S. Steele St. The numbers on the truck’s license plate aren’t visible in the pictures.

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The post did touch off something of a debate about whether taking items left for charity – the PTO donates funds to Lee County’s public schools to benefit a variety of activities – actually constitutes theft, but store Manager Sandy Perkins said that wasn’t her intent.

“This has been an ongoing problem for us, and not just for us. Our neighbors (at the Salvation Army Thrift Store) have the same problem,” she said. “If it had been the first time I’d seen these people doing this, I probably wouldn’t have posted the pictures. But they’re definitely repeat offenders. It’s very frustrating.”

Perkins said she regularly sees people come through after hours and go through bags, taking maybe a shirt or some other small item – a situation she’s less likely to speak up about. But she added that increasing instances of people arriving in vehicles late at night to take large items like couches and kitchen furniture has become frustrating. She said she regularly lets law enforcement know when thefts like that occur.

“We help people through the school social workers all the time with clothes and things like that,” she said. “I’m glad to help people who truly need it and ask for our help. But we’re also a business like anyone else – we have to keep the lights on, pay rent, pay insurance.”

Perkins said the debate on her post almost led her to take it down (“I don’t want people to think negatively about the store because of the bickering,” she said), but also said it’s something she wants the community to know about.

“Anything that takes away from what we’re trying to do here, and what other thrift stores are trying to do, it’s stealing,” she said.

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